Dr Tim Waskett
My role involves a number of different things but the majority of my work is building computer models that help the company understand where its risks are, which then help us manage them. They can be anything from a model of how power and gas prices move to how our fleet of nuclear stations behaves. Most recently I've built a model that can simulate various weather time-series, such as temperature and wind speed, because domestic gas and power demand is quite weather sensitive. We can use models like these to help us put in place suitable mechanisms to help guard against situations where the company would lose a lot of money, for example.
Building computer models appeals to me on a number of levels. It's very challenging but also very creative because I often have to devise new ways of representing a complex system in more manageable ways. It's very satisfying coming up with a good solution to a problem and implementing it in a user-friendly way. It involves writing a lot of computer code too, which is something I've come to enjoy a great deal. I also work in a team that tackles many of the more complex problems encountered by the business, so there is a lot of intellectual discussion amongst the team members. We're always working on new things; there's very little in the way of routine or procedural work, so it rarely gets boring. It's quite a lot like academic research in some respects, except without the constant push to publish papers!
I actually found out about the job I now have from a friend who works in the same team. We did our PhDs at the same time but afterwards she went straight out into industry while I started postdoctoral work. A couple of years later she mentioned that a job was available in her team and thought I'd be suitable. I was considering other options around that time so thought I'd apply and see what happens. My background in research was a big factor in me getting the job even though I had no relevant experience of the industry at that time. It was my skills and potential for original thinking that made the difference, I think.
In the transitional period after leaving academic research, there was a lot to learn about the energy industry. It can be quite overwhelming changing fields so drastically but you gradually pick it up and begin to feel more comfortable with it. Coming from a very different background can be an advantage too – it brings a different perspective compared with most people already in the industry, so you can often help them see things in a new way. The people around you are often the best resource for easing the transition; most are more than happy to explain what they do and help you understand how they fit into the business.
My research experience is useful in this role in a number of ways. Just being able to think around a problem is remarkably valuable. It's amazing how often a false concept is taken as truth without anyone actually questioning it. Our team has overturned more than one such situation and helped reveal what's really going on. It can change an entire business policy.
Understanding statistics is also a big plus. One of my biggest challenges is in explaining analysis results to people who don't have a good grounding in statistics. People often jump to conclusions based on incomplete understanding so the ability to explain what's really going on in understandable terms is also invaluable. Even basic statistical skills are very rare.
My advice to current researchers is don't be afraid to apply for something you have no experience in. Business and industry are crying out for numerate and analytical people – it doesn't really matter what your exact background is.
last edited: October 17, 2012